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brahms1.jpgI’ve been listening to Johannes Brahms’ Intermezzo in Eb Major off and on for the last week or so, after being led to it by something I read in Evan Eisenberg’s excellent book entitled The Recording Angel (Eisenberg refers to Brahms as “the great consoler”).
My interest was piqued by that phrase, although as I sought out some Brahms, I wasn’t feeling any strong, immediate need or desire for comfort. In listening, however, and in hearing the aforementioned intermezzo in particular, I was influenced, somehow. I felt the emergence of a melancholy feeling, which was then addressed and assuaged by the music. I was in fact comforted.
The mystery of how this kind of thing happens has been pondered and expressed by so many smart and articulate folks that I think I had better keep my ears open and my mouth shut on the issue, at least for a while. In the meantime, I wonder if any of you out there have thoughts about this particular conundrum:
Does music create the feelings you have while you listen, or does it lure them out of you?
Can music impose a feeling upon you that you don’t really have? Can it introduce you to a feeling that you’ve never had (if there is such a thing)?
Considering the fairly extraordinary fact that in the span of five minutes you can 1. learn of a piece’s existence, 2. search it out, 3. listen to it, and 4. thereafter find yourself listening to that piece and only that piece for days afterward; how is it that certain pieces of music are so seductive and/or addictive?
yours,
mz

Comments

  1. Robert M Gordon
    February 03, 2008 at 3:18pm
    Interesting and provocative questions (as the many comments show). Here's an attempt to answer them. First: Though some musical qualities such as tempo and strong rhythm may have some effects that are independent of individual biology, culture, psychology, and musical and life experience, many other effects of music seem to depend on who you are. So: Does music create the feelings or does it lure them out of you? Both at once. Can it introduce you to a feeling that you've never had? I don't see why not. The feeling may depend in part on who you are, but that isn't to say the music can't make you experience something new. Can music impose a feeling upon you that you don't really have? Lots of things impose feelings on us. But that isn't to say we don't really have the feelings. Also, "impose" doesn't mean "impose independently individual biology, culture, psychology, and musical and life experience." Our involuntary emotional responses to events generally depend on who we are.
    Reply
  2. Mister Basmt
    February 04, 2008 at 10:27am
    Like I said earlier, for me my mood/feelings determine what I listen to. But there is the occasional "feel good" song that just makes me feel better no matter what life throws at me. Maureen, It would take hours to explain all the songs on my iPod, most of which i have on there because of a nostalgic reason, not necessarily because I love the song.
    Reply
  3. faith
    February 13, 2008 at 1:10pm
    WOW THIS IS REALLY INTERESTING I THINK, BUT HOWEVER I REALLY DONT CARE ALL THAT MUCH ABOUT MUSIC SOME DAYS AND THEN OTHERS I CRAVE IT, BUT THAT DOSENT MATTER RIGHT NOW NOE DOSE IT ..... ALL WELLS TTYL BYE ALL WHO READ THIS IM OUTE
    Reply
  4. ses kayıt
    February 16, 2008 at 9:14pm
    I suspect it's the musical equivalent of Physics and the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle. You can't enjoy it and understand it at the same time.
    Reply
  5. Joseph J Shuster Sr
    February 19, 2008 at 12:36pm
    Michael, You confess a lack of credentials to analyze and comment on music and emotions but you entice the rest of us to tread where you don't dare. I appreciate your senses of humility and humor. It's tempting to follow your advice, but it would be rude to refuse your invitation. You mention the steps of discovery, appreciation, study, fixation and gratification from a previously unheard piece. It is an amazing process and I can remember a few instances. The most memorable was finding Mendelssohn's Octet. I'm sure I was doing something else when it came over the radio, but I remember stopping to listen. The feeling started out as "I think I know this piece." But after a while I realized that it was the opposite: The piece seemed to know me. Every turn, exchange, attack and retreat seemed to be in anticipation of what I wanted at a very non-verbal level. It was as if I walked into a restaurant and a waiter brought me beverages and food in perfect accordance of my tastes at the moment -- even those desires I couldn't identify or verbalize. The octet (ok, mainly the first movement) left me totally smitten and I pursued it in the style you mentioned. That was 20 years ago and it's still one of my 10 favorites. If I hear it on a radio, I have to stop what I'm doing and pay attention. I think that certain music put us in touch with part of ourselves that we can't (or don't) express with language. We might not even appreciate these personal aspects. Or we might overtly repudiate them. But the music reaches through our ignorance, unexpressiveness, and self-renunciation and triggers the irrestisible response we're talking about (aren't we?). Fun, idle musing on a Tuesday afternoon in an boisterous Caribou coffee shop on a frigid Midwest day. Thanks for the topic! Joe
    Reply
  6. Sammy
    February 19, 2008 at 6:32pm
    I always wonder if we didn't have music. This world we live in, it wouldn't be exciting at all. I love that we can shed our pain by the simpliest words in song. That's how i get through the day of my life.
    Reply

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